Coast Guard rescue illustrates importance of safe boating practices

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Coast Guard is reminding mariners the importance of boating safety and preparedness after rescuing four people from an 18-foot sailing vessel seven-miles north of Ponce Inlet, Fla., Wednesday.

The rescued boaters aboard the Gale Force sailing vessel, Cielo, left Mayport, Fla., at approximately 9 p.m. Sunday night en route to Jamaica. The survivors were reported to have no sailing experience, little food and water, and no reliable communication source.

With heavy weather expected throughout the Jacksonville area, the National Weather Service issued a small craft advisory to warn boaters of high seas and possible gale force strength winds.

The boaters aboard the Cielo safely navigated their way to Titusville, Fla., before becoming disabled and attempting a return to Mayport.

At approximately 5 p.m. Monday a crewmember aboard Cielo called a friend ashore via cell phone to report trouble with the electronic equipment aboard the sailing vessel.

The concerned friend notified the Coast Guard who promptly issued an urgent marine broadcast and launched a 47-foot motor life boat rescue crew from Station Ponce de Leon Inlet, Fla., and a HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Clearwater, Fla. The 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher, homeported in Mayport also responded to the distress.

Cielo’s owner, Patricia Drue, of Mayport, was unsuccessful in making repairs to the disabled vessel while simultaneously enduring 8-10 foot-seas, near a surf zone one-half-mile off Flagler beach, Fla. With a combination of the inclement weather, poor cell phone reception and a broken VHF radio, it was difficult for rescue crews to locate the distressed mariners.

The Coast Guard transmitted a VHF hail to seek any mariners who may have seen the Cielo and could report their position. A tug boat and a bridge tender both responded with a visual confirmation of Cielo's position.

“They didn’t appear to heed forecasted weather advisories and had no communication outside a cell phone which made the search very difficult, everything that we recommend, they didn’t do it," said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Schreiber, chief of response, Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville.

The 47-foot motor life boat crew located and towed the vessel to Station Ponce for an evaluation and to conduct a post rescue boarding. It was determined that the Cielo had incurred rudder damage.

“A team effort between the Coast Guard and the search entities lead to a successful rescue,” said Schreiber.

Drue said she planed to fix her vessel and head back to Mayport.

The Coast Guard is using this case as an example to educate all mariners that being prepared for possible maritime emergencies will save your life. The close coordination between good Samaritan vessels, Coast Guard operation watchstanders and rescue crews were pivotal in the successful rescue of these boaters. Always have a working VHF radio aboard your vessel and monitor it continually. Before ever getting underway, assess the risks, check the weather and file a float plan. Being prepared will save your life.

For more information about safe boating practices and Coast Guard recommendations please visit the website http://www.uscgboating.org/default.aspx

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